STRAUSS: Die Liebe der Danae
Strauss completed Die Liebe der Danae ("The Love of Danae") in 1940 and it had a dress rehearsal in Vienna in 1944 with Clemens Krauss conducting. The first public performance was at the Salzburg Festival in August 1952 again with Clemens Krauss on the podium—a recording exists of this on Orfeo d'Or. The opera offers a comic approach to Greek mythology. Danae's father, King Pollux, is bankrupt, and to help him she plans to marry Midas who can turn anything into gold. The leacherous Jupiter lusts after the lovely Danae and disguises himself as Midas . The plot is convoluted with mistaken identies, Danae turning into a gold statue, but all ends well in some of Strauss's most glorious music.He considered it to be among his finest works. Audiences seem to disagree, understandably; there apparently have been only 16 productions since 1952. There is no shock value as in Salome or Elektra, and the rather mundane plot doesn't offer the excitement usually associated with Strauss. There are no big dramatic scenes, although Danae is a continuous stream of elegant late Strauss. Several years ago, Telarc issued a splendid recording with Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra with Lauren Flanigan a superb Danae. The opera isn't as fortunate in this misguided new production from Deutsche Oper Berlin filmed earlier this year. . The opera has been updated, with modern tuxes and clothing. Sets are simple but effective. Kirsten Harms directed and is reponsible, among other oddities, for having an inverted grand piano hanging from the ceiling throughout the performance, with pages of sheet music dropping from it, presumably representing gold. Manuela Uhl sings the demanding title role, which she recorded almost a decade ago with the Kiel Opera. She looks beautiful indeed, but has a wobble unfortunate for a young soprano, perhaps the result of her singing Salome and Chrysothemis (I was disappointed by her performance of the latter in the Thielemann Elektra) (REVIEW). The remainder of the cast is excellent, but the real stars here are conductor Andrew Litton and the splendid orchestra. Video is vivid, and audio captures Strauss's rich orchestration admirably. A dubious "bonus" doesn't amount to much: excerpts from a public rehearsal and a repetition of program notes. However, if you love Strauss operas, you probably should get this—it is unlikely there will be another video of it for many years.
Carmen has proven it is indestructible although some recent DVDs have put it to the supreme test, including one of the two latest. The Opus Arte issue is filmed in 3D, and quite effectively so. There are no exaggerated visual effects of any kind, just a sense of seeing the entire stage realistic presented with depth and definition. With uncommon clarity we can view a horse, a donkey, and some chickens. But even these visual effects cannot help the performance directed by Francesco Zambello that is decidedly rosaic.Christine Rice is a beautiful Carmen and acts well. and American tenor Bryan Hymel as a secure Don José with no trouble on any of those treacherous exposed high notes, and he is handsome as well. sings well enough, but his acting is wooden. Perhaps is was an off day for Aris Argiris as Escamillo. He appears uncomfortable in this challenging role; his insecure singing hardly suggests the bold, swaggering toreador. Overrall, this Carmen is rather disappointing, particularly when there are so many excellent versions available.
The other Carmen production is from Gran Teatre del Liceu and is a travesty. Spanish directoror Calixto Bieito emphasizes sex and sensuality. Bieito has elected to update Carmen to the 1970s, eliminating most of the recitatives (really not much of a problem), and some minor characters. Alfons Flores' scenery is minimalist; imaginative lighting by Xavi Clot helps to overcome the overall barren appearance. In the first act, we have a large flagpole, a telephone booth, several old cars, a wooden bull, and other items that appear to come from a junkyard. Carmen can't keep her hands off José, and as Roberto Alagna is in good shape physically, it seems understandable—although overdone. Carmen should not be depicted as a brazen slut. The Gypsy Dance is performed around and on top of an old car, as one gypsy gives oral sex to a soldier behind the car. Bizet's masterpiece is cheapened by all this. Alagna is in good vocal condition, but does not equal his performance in the recent stunning Metropolitan Opera production (REVIEW). Alagna has already proven he is sympathetic to new interpretations of major roles, evidenced by the forgettable 2004 Royal Opera House Faust directed by David McVicar in which Faust is an addict seen on stage injecting himself with drugs (REVIEW). Béatrice Uria-Monzon is a vocally uneven Carmen but she is dramatically convincing within the director's concept of the character. Marina Poplavskaya's Micaëla is effective; at least Bieito respects her innocence. The remainder of the cast does not impress. Even baritone Erwin Schrott disappoints vocally—his Escamillo is a bold braggart, but many notes are approximate. It is tragic that opera houses continue to permit directors to inflict their inappropriate concepts on audiences. This Liceu production should not be labelled as "Bizet: Carmen." It should be called "Bizet's Carmen as mutilated by Calixto Bieito."